Wells and Pavlich may be risked
Both North Melbourne and Fremantle have key selection decisions to make on reigning best and fairest winners ahead of Sunday’s showdown at Etihad Stadium.
Never has a Roos-Dockers clash been so keenly anticipated or had more on the line, with the result set to shape the finals in a way no other match will in the run home.
Taking that into account, Fremantle is stuck in a dilemma over whether to risk captain Matthew Pavlich, while the Roos are in a similar position with running machine Daniel Wells.
Wells’ calf injury, sustained against Essendon nine days ago, has responded better than first predicted to treatment and it’s understood the Roos are confident of getting last year’s joint club champion up for Sunday’s match.
The Roos could even name Wells in the extended 25-player squad to give him every opportunity before making the call.
”Because we play on Sunday, it enables us to give Daniel extra time to prove his fitness after missing last week,” Roos football manager Donald McDonald said yesterday.
”But we won’t be making a call on him until later in the week.”
North, in sixth place, can afford to be more cautious than the eighth-placed Dockers given it is almost certain to play finals, sitting two games ahead of those outside the top eight with a final-round game against bottom-placed GWS.
But the possibility that an interstate team could finish fifth or sixth means the Roos need to keep winning so they hold one of those top positions in the bottom half of the eight.
North will be mindful of not rushing Wells back early and have him re-injure his calf and be in doubt for the finals.
Form suggests the Roos are playing well enough even without the explosive midfielder, having just defeated fourth-placed Collingwood despite the absence of Wells.
”Obviously he is a vitally important player to us, so with that in mind, it’s crucial we don’t rush him back,” McDonald said. ”But if the medical staff say he’s right to go, then he will be out there for sure.”
Nathan Grima has already been ruled out, but the Roos say he is in the frame for next week’s game against the Giants, which would give the important key defender – Grima is No.1 in the AFL for average spoils – one game before the finals on the comeback from a hamstring he hurt against the Bombers.
The situation for Fremantle coach Ross Lyon and Pavlich is simpler but more cutthroat. The Dockers are likely give up their spot to ninth-placed Carlton (which plays Gold Coast) if they don’t beat the Roos at Etihad – they have won both times they have played there this year.
That being the case, it seems Fremantle will take the punt on Pavlich, who has become a week-to-week proposition while battling several leg problems.
The six-time All-Australian did not train at all last week leading up to Saturday’s win over Richmond and he may have to miss all sessions again this week as he nurses hamstring and Achilles complaints, which were exacerbated against the Tigers.
Pavlich, though, is expected to tell the fitness stuff he is right to play.
”I’ve been sore for a couple of weeks, but nothing too unusual for this time of the year,” Pavlich said.
”Throughout the game I had some treatment on the lower half of my body. I’m pretty confident that if I do all the right things throughout this week, which I have been doing as early as Saturday evening, we’ll be fine to get up for the game.
”I will be doing everything possible because we know what a big game it will be.”
Whether Pavlich plays will have a big bearing on the Dockers’ finals chances, but also the race for the Coleman Medal.
The 30-year-old is closing in on his first league goalkicking award and sits on top with 60.
If he plays, Sunday could turn out to be a shootout between him and North’s Drew Petrie, who sits in third place with 55 goals.
If Pavlich does not play, he could open the door for Petrie and second-placed Jack Riewoldt from Richmond (56 goals) to steal the medal from him in the last two rounds.
The Dockers also have injury concerns with midfielders Nat Fyfe and Tendai Mzungu, both of whom were sore after the Richmond game, while ruckman Jonathon Griffin is also in doubt after hurting himself in the warm-up last week. That prompted the controversial late inclusion of Aaron Sandilands and fuelled the subsequent war of words between Tigers coach Damien Hardwick and Lyon.